Angel Falling Softly - By Eugene Woodbury

Chapter 1

The devil lives next door

Bedlam beat against the boards. The oaken beams shuddered. The reverberations echoed through the great hall of the manor house. The sound of thunder, perhaps. Or the Master slamming through the empty rooms in another one of his senseless rages. The child they’d brought him had not satisfied. He would beckon her soon enough, glower and remonstrate, pace lines on the drawing-room carpet, smacking the leather of his riding crop into the palm of his hand.

Always the same accusation: “You have wrung her dry! Do you hand a hard sponge to a thirsting man?”

Always her plea: “But there are three of us and only one of you!”

Always his dismissive answer: “You are children. You need hardly a drop!”

She closed her mouth and clenched her teeth and repeated to herself: I am not a child, and one day you shall know this.

Another harsh report. Milada’s eyes flew open. The darkness hung around her like funerary curtains. Her heart raced. She listened closer. No, these were not the echoes of the Master’s temper. It was not lightning, nor was it thunder. It was the sound of angry men and their fists pounding on the door.

Kamilla turned to her, eyes glowing in the dark. “What is going on?” she demanded. “What have you done?”

The heavy iron hinges were beginning to give.

Chapter 2

Fortune favors the bold

The sonic boom echoed across the city from the West Desert bombing range, rattling the window frame. White light struck Milada hard in the face. She jerked her head away from the growing patch of sunlight. A draft of air from the vents had caught the curtains away from the glass. She covered her eyes with her hands and groaned. So early, and the day had defeated her already.

Milada climbed out of bed and pulled on her nightgown. After retrieving her cell phone from the dresser, she approached the window and cracked open the curtains. Then leaned back as a veritable blast of light sprang into the room.

From her safe vantage she contemplated the Salt Lake City metropolis. What a strange city it was, housing no more people than Yonkers yet filling a county half the size of Long Island. The urban landscape flowed down from Federal Heights and out from Temple Square like the gush from a fire hydrant flooding onto Brooklyn asphalt. Zoning was left to nature, and nature was an undisciplined commissar.

Her cell phone chirped. Jane’s wake-up call. “Morning, Milly,” Jane said in her always cheerful voice. “How are you finding Utah?”

“It is very bright,” Milada replied.

An understatement, to say the least. There was nothing subterranean here, no shade that was not filled with light. Late yesterday afternoon, waiting for the Hilton limo to pick her up at the airport, the air had been as hot as an oven and as dry as sandpaper.

On the phone Jane was saying something about Garrick. Milada shifted her attention back to her executive assistant as Jane said, “He left a note. ‘Ask Milly about the last time she’s had anything to eat,’ it says.”

Milada had to laugh, though she was really laughing at herself. A biting truth underpinned the kidding reprimand. She did not live by bread alone.

“Oh, and I have Kammy’s local phone and pager numbers,” Jane said.

“I should be seeing her later today, but let me have them anyway.”

Jane ran through the day’s itinerary. Milada half-listened as she talked, and mostly to the comforting familiarity of her voice. Two thousand miles, and it sounded like she was next door. Milada already felt a touch of homesickness. She not only understood her stepfather’s solitary ways, but she was starting to take after them. That’s what worried Garrick.

Jane said, “Your contact at Loveridge & Associates is Merrill Loveridge. Odds are they’ll push some flunky on you.”

“Just as well,” Milada replied. Most corporate officers equal to her in status were wont to treat her like a precocious teenager.

The hotel room phone rang. Jane heard it as well. “I’ll let you get that, Milly. That’s all I’ve got on my end.”

Milada said good-bye. The call was the concierge saying that her driver had arrived. Before returning to the bedroom, she paused again before the window. As she gazed down from her aerie on this unrolling sod of civilization, it appeared to her as Mars might have through Percival Lowell’s telescope: an exotic, unexplored country. No, it was definitely not New York. But she was intrigued by what its people had to offer her.

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